back to article Music downloads greener than buying CDs

Downloading digital music is better for the environment than buying physical CDs from a retail store or online etailer, according to a trio of researchers. Their study (PDF), entitled The Energy and Climate Change Impacts of Different Music Delivery Methods and sponsored by Microsoft and Intel, details an exhaustive …


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  1. Scott Jones

    Next on the research docket.....

    "Researchers have discovered that light causes the darkness to go away."

  2. Tony Paulazzo

    If I get this right

    you're saying that pirates are saving the planet? Wonder if that would work in a court of law?

  3. Steve Roper

    Good thinking 99

    So downloading music produces less CO2 than buying CDs eh? How interesting - pit the environmental lobby against the music industry and watch the two big political forces have at it!

    <sits back, grabs popcorn>

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    ....downloading FREE music saves MY green-backs!




  5. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  6. JonP

    @Tony Paulazzo - Pirates

    it's in their own interests after all global warming is causing a decrease in the number of pirates (or is it the other way around...) and that would certainly worry me if i were a pirate.

  7. Gareth Pye

    3rd party numbers?

    Why use a third parties estimate for CO2/mile, why not use the one uesd in the paper. Not having read it, your description makes it appear that they detail the assumptions used and CO2/mile had to be one of them.

  8. A. Lewis

    No comparison

    It always mildly annoys me when I see reports comparing CD buying to music downloads. They're not the same thing at all to my mind.

    If I buy a song off itunes, that's all I get, that song. I can put it on my ipod, or play it on my computer perhaps.

    If I go to a shop and buy a CD I get a complete package: That song, plus a bunch of others that go with it. I also get a physical object I can keep, show or lend to people. I can take it in the car, play it on any (reasonably modern) hi-fi, etc. etc. I also get a booklet of album art and often all the song lyrics printed out.

    I know digital music technology is becoming ubiquitous, so the 'I can take a CD places' comment doesn't really stand up, but an album is still a whole object that is greater than just a given song.

  9. lukewarmdog


    So by downloading films I save the planet even more as John Travolta doesn't need to fly his personal jet to the premiere of me watching something at home.

  10. Richard C.

    KCW reported on this last month

    "Hosting queen-pin" Kate Craig-Wood of covered this on her site last month with a break down of server and PCs costs compared to production and delivery of CDs.

  11. James 5

    "sponsored by Microsoft and Intel"

    .. so no vested interest there then!

    Lets have more CO2 anyway - high CO2 levels don't damage the planet. Warmer climates tend to improve things, just like having a physical CD!

    If buying music on CDs delays the next Ice Age - then count me in!

  12. The Indomitable Gall

    Re: If I get this right

    @Tony Paulazzo

    "you're saying that pirates are saving the planet? Wonder if that would work in a court of law?"

    Let's moot it:

    Prosecution: So, you say that you downloaded these 5 gazillion tracks in order to save the planet.

    Defendant: That's right.

    Prosecution: I would now like to point the court's attention to the exhibit 6D, an extract from the defendant's "blog". It says, and I quote "These big labels don't know what's good for them. I use downloads to discover new music. Since I started downloading, I've bought more CDs than ever before." I put it to you that you download merely for your own avarice, and that you will simply tack on any excuse that you believe justifies your selfish actions.

  13. Neoc

    Of course...

    ...this assumes that the device you use to listen to your CD and the device for playing your digital downloads have the same carbon footprint in the first place.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You monsters!

    "The Reg highly recommends downloading and perusing the 30-page paper - it's perfect light reading for your late-summer beach holiday."

    You're not seriously proposing we PRINT OUT a copy onto thinly sliced dead trees, and then travel on a heavily-CO2 emiting airplane to somewhere sunny to read it, are you?

    You eco-terrorists, you.

  15. Bad Beaver


    And how very surprised are we by these findings. *yawn*

    Did they take into account the massive server and storage farms necessary? I faintly remember that a single Google search has quite the footprint, CO2 wise.

    Anyway, it's all moot, since the postcar that is carrying your ordered CDs & DVDs also carries a whole load of other stuff, and it will be driven regardless of whether your media are on board or not, filled with heavier goods that resist downloadability. If you calculate the savings you also need to calculate the cost. In this case a whole load of jobs in warehouse upkeeping, packing, production, ... if your "greening" of a product produces hordes of unemployed people, CO2 emissions will rather rise, as they will all sit at home in front of the TV or surfing the web during their formerly productive time.

  16. H2Nick

    I don't care - CD's sound better on my hifi

    & I can create mp3s as & when I need them

  17. This post has been deleted by its author

  18. EvilGav 1

    But . . .

    . . . even if the people don't burn it to CD, what about all the exotic metals used in creating the PC or Mac that has to be used to download the song ?? And the miles of fibre/copper wire to get it to your house ?? And the different materials used in the optic repeaters, switching stations, modems etc etc that also have to exist ?? Plus all the exotics in the media player (for iTunes downloads).

    I'll admit to not having read the report, but if the only measure they use is CO2, it's not exactly taking into account all the other eco-mentalist costs involved, is it ??

  19. B3vil
    Thumb Down


    With high speed connections, high capacity disks and modern processors there is no real excuse for them to sell things in a sub-CD quality lossy format.

    Hell, they could sell the original multi-channel sources and do all the mixing in realtime, letting you turn on / off layers or set up your 7.1 mix as you want with recommended defaults, and give you the option to convert it to MP3 for portable players, without having to worry about space or physical distribution. (Ok, A couple of CDs tried this with some bonus proprietary solution, but that was just a gimmick mixing even lower quality mp3s)

    But they don't, and until I get a better product by downloading their digital offerings I'll be sticking with the physical discs, no matter how 'ungreen' they are. I'm fed up of technology moving *backwards* and offering us worse overall products for more expensive prices, the music industry (and Sony with the new PS3s) are prime examples of this.

  20. Simon Riley


    Bah. It all sounds better on vinyl

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Saving the planet defence

    Didn't work for a few dozen ecovandals.

  22. Richard 102

    Stop press shocker!

    Does anyone else get the impression that many of these researchers and analysts should have been eaten by wolves many years ago?

  23. Cameron Colley

    I love these types of report.

    Some statistician decides to prove something is true and goes out and makes the figures to prove it. It may be true, or it may not -- but the report doesn't tell us that it just tells us what those producing it wanted to say.

    @B3vil: The only artist I know of who has moved in that direction is Trent Reznor, but there are probably others. Oddly enough though I still prefer buying a CD to downloading the full album in FLAC or WAV and the full Garage Band multitracks.

    As for MP3 -- I had no choice but to buy an album (by Anousheh Khalili) on MP3 and the lack of quality pisses me off every time I listen to it. It sounds "OK" when her voice should sound amazing.

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